The Walk Away

326

BASHIR ASSAD

THE militants disappeared from the scene and we started our journey towards Srundoo village, 15 kilometres west from Anantnag town. As Shah had retired from the active services and was limping towards old age, we had to walk a little slower than we usually could. I had no idea about the destination we were supposed to reach. But Shah and Jeelani were quite familiar with the area; so they would sometimes take shortcuts through orchards, cross narrow village streams. Still it took us around four hours to reach the place. It was an amazing experience as we entered the village. Hundreds of militants were cordoning the village. It was like a regular armed force of some state, absolutely normal, not looking like guerrillas in anyway because they were visible and relaxed.

Anyways, a couple of militants escorted us to the three-storey palatial house I earlier mentioned. We were taken to the third floor. Food was served. It was delicious. After finishing dinner, Shah and Jeelani offered late-evening prayers and the house owner finally wished good night and we went to bed. Jeelani soon started snoring loudly whereas Shah and I could not sleep. Early morning, we went to the washroom on the ground floor, one by one, offered prayers and had tea. It was now 8.30 in the morning when we were asked to come downstairs. Right in front of this palatial house was a single-storey hut and we were asked to walk over.

So it was three persons facing three different charges. But everyone present in the hall was keen to take up my case first. Shamsul was still reciting The Quran. As Abdul Rashid Chehlan was preparing to gives his opening remarks, Haqu closed the zip of the parcel-sized copy of The Quran, looked around and said, “Assalamualaikum”.

Rashid got up and started the proceedings. Rashid who was ameer-e-zilla (district president) of Jamaat, very powerfully and forcefully pleaded before Haqu, “Bashir Assad Tehreek aur Islam ke khilaaf jung chedne ka murtaqib paya gaya hai, ye pichle teen saal se tehreek dushman aur Islam dushman karwayoon mein mulwis paya gaya hai aur laakh samjhaane ke baawajood ye apni naapaak harkaton se baaz nahi aataa hai, rukn e jamaat e Islami, Muhammad Sultan Bhat ki pusht Panahi per Bashir Assad din raat Tehreek dushmani aur Islam dushmani per gamzan hai, hamaare jiyale mujahideen ki nuktacheeni karta hai aur shaheedon ke khoon ki behurmati bhi. Yahaan jamaat ke zimmedaar sipaahi baithe hain, ye apni rai aapke saamne rakhenge. Beharhaal main itna zaroor kahoonga ki Quraan aur Sunnah ki roshni mein Bashir wajibul qatal hai”. With this, Rashid Chehlan sat down and Gulzar Monkanpuri took over. There was hardly any ugly abuse and allegation which Gulzar didn’t hurl upon me. He strongly pleaded that I be killed right there without wasting a minute. I could see my fellow hostages turning pale out of fear. Shah and Jeelani were close to collapse. Such was the intensity of charges levelled against me and such aggressive were the Jamaat leaders in wishing death for me.

This was an overall picture of the mindset of Jamaat-e-Islami carders. Pronouncing a death sentence was not a big deal. Just quote some versus of The Quran, prove the person guilty, don’t give him chance to defend himself, kill him and celebrate. Not a single person in the “august house of lordships” recommended anything below death sentence. One by one, all the “lordships” present there approved my execution without wasting any time. Shamsul Haqu, holding the right side of his face with his right hand, and eyes closed throughout the proceedings, was hearing the juries keenly, without making any gestures. The jury took around one hour to plead the case and all through this, Shamsul Haqu didn’t make any movement, and sat like a statue.

Now came the time for the Hizbul supremo to finally stamp my execution. As the house fell into silence waiting for the final word from him, Shamsul Haqu, after a pause of about a minute or so, looked at me and said, “Do you want to say anything in your defence?” Aah! This was not in the scheme of things! The Jamaat leaders were not expecting Shamsul Haqu to give me a chance to respond. All of them were surprised at this gesture by Shamsul Haqu. “Muhtaram ye mujrim hai, isne sangeen jurm kiya hai, aap sirf faisla sadir kijye,” reverted Gulzar Monkanpuri.

“Nahin, isko poora haq hai apne aapko begunaah saabit karne ka,” replied Shams. And then to me, he repeated, “ji Bashir Saheb, boliye.”

I was no more terrified as I knew I had to die. I was now mentally and physically conditioning myself for the bigger and the ultimate truth of life: death. I asked for a glass of water before I would get up to say something. Water was quickly made available by a militant standing at the door. I emptied the glass in one go, got up to respond to whatever nonsense the Jamaat leaders had spoken.

I thanked Haqu for giving me the opportunity to say something. Jeelani, sitting next to me, gently put his hand on my feet. I could feel he was heartbroken, scared and helpless. Both my hostage companions were just praying for mercy. Had they been given a chance to speak for me, they would have, I am sure, but they only cried, with folded hands, for clemency. Both loved me, believed in my innocence but wouldn’t have proved my innocence given the kind of wrath they would face from the leaders present in the house.

However, I started gently but gradually became louder and louder. I argued very strongly and with anecdotal references, tried to the best of my ability to prove that it was not me who was guilty. It was those Jamaat leaders sitting in the hall who had committed great offences on humankind. I presented scores of cases where innocent civilians were killed, maimed, subjected to inhuman torture at their behest, simply for their personal egos and vendetta. I grew louder and louder as I referred to dozens of such killings which were carried out at their behest, not on the basis of any crime but simply because they – the Jamaat leaders – wanted them to be killed. As the flow was spectacular, I suggested to Shamsul Haqu to call in anyone of the militants ambushing outside and enquire from him, who was killed by him, when, where and why? I challenged him: “You randomly call one and ask him why he killed A or B? He would tell you that he did it because this one or that one from Jamaat asked him so”.

And lastly, I posed a question. “Tell me if any militant or civilian is tortured or killed by the CRPF or the BSF (Army was not there in 1992)? Why do Jamaat people condemn such killings and give calls for protests.” I said it is because you look at it as extrajudicial killing and therefore condemn it. “Rightly so, but tell me who the hell these illiterate bastards are to recommend execution of someone, immaterial whether he has erred or not. If standing against their extrajudicial executions is a crime, yes, I have committed a crime and I will continue to do so till my last breath”. I concluded and sat down. There was silence of a graveyard. Such was the silence that sounds of breathing could be heard. No movement, no side changing, nothing. After five minutes I could see Professor Shah gently advancing his hand to put on my shoulder. I looked at him, tears were trickling down his cheeks but this time he looked relaxed. As I looked to my left, Jeelani was hiding his face with both the hands to stop his shrieks.

Finally, Shamsul Haqu changed his position, removed his hand from the face, sat straight and said, “I am indebted to you Bashir Saheb, you saved me from committing a great error. I am in total agreement with whatever you said. They (pointing towards the Jamaat leaders) are just inhuman and barbaric. They want us to kill people randomly. I regret and ask for forgiveness. I really don’t know how many people they have got killed; they are killers. You are free and so are your two elderly companions. I don’t want to listen what charges they face, but now I know for sure that they too are innocent. You please go, take your friends along but not before taking a cup of tea with me”.

I said, “We won’t take tea with you Janaab, please don’t ask me why, please”. I still don’t know whether the gentleman understood why I was not willing to take tea with him or not. But he smiled, advanced his hand for a final handshake of goodbye and we left, without even looking towards those “lordships”.

I would leave it to my readers to guess why I refused to have tea with the Hizbul supremo.

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